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May 8, 2019

“Mother’s Day is the one day I don’t want to be a mother at all.”

Mother’s Day is fast approaching.

Are you ready? Because when Sunday hits, it’s go time, and you had better have a plan to honor and adore the mother in your life.

But be assured, every mother has a different idea about how to best be pampered and celebrated.

My Mother’s Day tradition is a hike with my family. We hike a lot throughout the year, but this hike is special because it’s the one hike of the year my kids can’t complain.

Last year, we hiked in the rain and they just smiled at me, dripping wet and hungry, and told me what a great time they were having. Complete bullsh*t, of course, but my gift is them faking it for my sake to give me a day with my favorite people doing what I enjoy most.

But a day with the kids isn’t the gift of choice for everyone. What I’ve noticed over the last decade of Mother’s Days is that more and more, the preferred way to celebrate is to get as much of a break from actual mothering as possible.

I think a woman in my yoga class put this trend as succinctly as possible: “Mother’s Day is the one day I don’t want to be a mother at all.”

I promise you, she’s not talking about not having children anymore. She’s talking about the more loaded, shadowy mountain of meaning that has grown like a tumor on the word “mother” over the last 20 years.

When she says she doesn’t want “to be a mother at all,” she’s talking about not wanting to be the default housekeeper for a day.

She’s talking about not wanting to be the default schedule keeper, the only one who knows where everyone has to be and when, and when everyone has to leave the house to get there, and when everyone has to be dressed and fed in order to leave the house. The only one who keeps track of doctor appointments and veterinary appointments and birthday parties and teacher conferences and practices and performances and play dates and lessons.

She’s talking about not being the default meal planner and cook, only to hear yet again that it’s not what someone wanted.

She’s talking about not being the default rule enforcer, the one who makes sure veggies are eaten, coats are worn, homework is done, teeth are brushed, bodies are washed, and bedtimes are met.

She’s talking about not being the one to walk around after the kids are in bed, picking up after everyone—knowing it will all fall apart again tomorrow.

She’s talking about wanting to be able to relax into a reality in which she is part of a community net, equally supported as giving support, instead of being the one who catches everyone else.

Mothers today have been sold the idea that we not only can have it all, but should. That we should be able to raise well-behaved, well-rounded, healthy, kind, smart, athletic, unique, independent kids without the support of a village that our mothers and grandmothers had. That we should be engaged with our kids at all times, enriching their lives and the mother-child bond, never taking our eyes off them, devoting our every waking (and sleeping) breath to their needs and whims, sacrificing our own independent identities to serve our children, sloughing off our old personas to emerge in a glowing, mom-blog glorifying, there-is-no-greater-calling sainthood of maternal devotion.

While doing so, we should keep a clean, well-decorated house; maintain our own healthy social circles and interactions (but not too many ladies lunches, though, lest you feel like you are loafing); carve out time for ourselves (hobbies! therapy! exercise! down time!); be politically active and well-read and knowledgeable enough to discuss policy failures and pop culture; keep up with sports and world events and the dozen most popular television shows; and have a healthy sex life with our partner (don’t let the spark die and remember to keep dating your spouse!).

We should volunteer at school and eat lunch with our kids and oh right, have fulfilling careers, because who can afford summer camp on one salary and anyway, if we don’t have a meaningful, brag-worthy career, we are somehow failing to live up to the sacrifices and fight for equality of opportunity.

Our cars should be clean and our yards should be tended and our clothes should be trendy and our nails should be painted.

The woman in yoga didn’t mean she wanted to get rid of her kids, she meant she wanted, for just one day, to get rid of the millstone of societal expectations that we wear around our necks like macaroni necklaces, an obligatory adornment that magically appears the day someone arrives who calls us “Mom.”

So what do you get that woman? That woman who is so done with the bastardized version of a word that she rejects the very word itself?

Two things, actually. The first is a day of complete, bow-down gratitude for walking through a life that is stacked against her and doing it with grace and humor most days. There’s not a mother out there who hasn’t felt invisible at some point, who hasn’t been taken for granted. Clean laundry appears, meals get made, projects get turned in, practices get attended.

Mothers are the women behind the curtain of family life—so pull back the damn curtain and say, “Thank you” and, “I see you.”

The second is something for the day after Mother’s Day. And the day after that, and the day after that. It’s a mindset shift, a resolution to communicate with the mother in your life to learn the areas that are causing her to feel overwhelmed and invisible most often, and to take them more on yourself.

It’s a resolution to remind her that just because women can do everything doesn’t mean that we should, just like an expanded menu doesn’t mean that someone should order one of everything. Remind her that everyone has to pick and choose where our limited time and attention go and that we have to let go of the pressure to do it all.

It’s a resolution to be a better teammate, a better friend, a better village partner.

Mothers shouldn’t be celebrated and honored one day a year. If we can make a shift to honoring the role of mothers all year long—and refocusing the role of a mother to something more attainable and realistic—then perhaps “mother” will stop being a word we want to run away from, even for just one day.


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